As the country battles Covid-19, with cases inching towards 60,000, an “infodemic” of fake news also seems to be spreading along with the virus. An analysis by fact-checking website BOOM has found that while January-February saw most rumours about China and false predictions about coronavirus treatment, fake news on Italy lockdown went viral in March. And in April, communally charged disinformation targeting the Muslim community became more frequent.
The revelations were published in “Fake News in The Time of Coronavirus: A BOOM Study”, in which it carried out 178 fact checks on Covid-19-related misinformation/disinformation from January to May, 2020.
The study has been conducted through data and evidence of viral information, such as trending news topics and types of media through which this information was disseminated. Topics like prediction theory, bio weapon, economy, health, politics, Italy, China, cure/prevention/treatment, lockdown and communal were trending between the months of January to April.
According to the study, 35 per cent of false and misleading claims were made through videos and April saw a spike in clips targeting Muslim vendors for allegedly spitting on food items to spread the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, 29. 4 per cent of fake news, which included fake diagnosis and treatment or doctored quotes by celebrities along with their pictures, was shared through text messages. These spiked in March as false notifications and lockdown guidelines became viral.
The study also analysed a small number of audio clips (2.2 per cent) going viral with false contexts. About 4 per cent of BOOM’s fact-checks were on news reports by mainstream media organisations.
The first Covid-19 fact-check by BOOM was done on January 25 this year. While February saw major events like the Delhi elections, Donald Trump’s India visit and the Delhi riots dominating the fake news cycle, the topic of fake news drastically changed in March, shifting to coronavirus-related misinformation.
The fact-checking website also found evidence suggesting that the number of checks published by them had a positive correlation with the number of Covid-19 infections in the country. The study claimed that during this period, as the number of cases grew, so did their number of pandemic-related fact-checks.
A large number of fact-checks on the pandemic were on communal rumours, most of which were false allegations against Muslims of purposefully spreading the virus. These messages appeared in April, after several members of the Tablighi Jamaat tested positive for the virus following a congregation in Delhi in mid-March.